With Millennials and Generation Y set to become a large voting block in America, the question of how to win young voters looms large in the 2020 election. While younger generations have been notoriously difficult to turn out in the past, Generations Y and Z have a unique aspect that could turn them into a political force: memes.
Memes, or social media images accompanied by text, tend to provoke an emotional reaction, often humor. The meme has the potential for virality – and that’s political potency, given that any serious campaign must get its message out.
The 2012 election saw the beginning of the memefication of American politics: Romney’s comments about “binders full of women” and Obama’s “horses and bayonets” quip were fertile meme ground. But 2016 was deemed most-memed election in American history by the Washington Post. Unforgettable was “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.”
This election season promises to be an even bigger meme-fest. Political meme groups are already popping up on Facebook, including a “dank meme stash” for Beto O’Rourke. But political memes have a dark side as well, precipitating fears of a less nuanced political discourse. Some are concerned about the weaponization of memes by actors like the alt-right and Russia, with experts warning that the United States is unprepared for “meme warfare.”
The question for this election season will be which presidential candidate – and country?—wins the meme war — and does it even matter?